U21 Leinster Football Championship: Wexford 1-15 Louth 2-8
The needless concession of two second-half penalties made it a bit more nervy than it really should have been for the Wexford under-21 footballers as they launched their Leinster championship bid in impressive fashion at floodlit Bellefield on Wednesday night last.
Wexford imposed their will on things after a tight first quarter to surge from being tied on 0-3 apiece to carve out an impressive 1-10 to 0-4 interval advantage. But Louth were gifted a lifeline just five minutes after the restart when Wexford gave away the first of two penalties, with the second, on 57 minutes, giving then 14-man Louth a glimmer of hope at 1-15 to 2-7.
In fairness though, Wexford were full value for their victory, with the opposition being totally flattered to have finished so close as Wexford exacted revenge for their horrid 4-16 to 0-8 loss to the same opposition in the corresponding fixture last year.
Incidentally, the sides both retained seven players from that meeting, and after a bright start by Wexford, which saw them forge ahead by 0-3 to 0-1 after ten minutes things looked set to be tight as Louth quickly bridged the gap. Midfielder Michael O’Regan was near impeccable from dead-balls for Wexford just as Kevin O’Grady was from play, and they each posted pointed frees early on, before O’Grady negated a Louth opener (Eamonn O’Neill seven minutes) with the sort of peach of a point that was to be his trademark.
Although Kevin Rogers (play and free) levelled matters at 0-3 apiece, Wexford really found their rhythm during the second quarter, working brilliantly off-the-ball to stretch Louth. They were lifted by two more magical points from O’Grady (one free), and although Rogers pegged back a pointed free on 19 minutes, Wexford responded three minutes later with the goal they had been threatening for. But it came after a spot of misfortune, as corner-back Conor Carty saw his initial effort crash off the underside of the town-end crossbar before he banged home the rebound, Killian Kehoe and Brendan Halpin having been key figures in the move. Wexford simply grew in confidence with points from Declan Murphy, Matthew O’Hanlon, O’Regan (2 frees) and Paudie Kelly to stretch ahead by 1-10 to 0-4 at the interval.
After an initial exchange of pointed frees on the restart (McEneaney for Louth, O’Grady obliging for Wexford) the Louth lads began to whip up a storm and caused Wexford to give away a penalty in the 35th-minute penalty, when a defender pushed a Louth attacker to the ground despite there being two more Wexford defenders between the attacker and goal! The peno was expertly put away by Jim McEneaney, and points from him (free) and Rogers suddenly had the gap down to 1-11 to 1-7 after 39 minutes.
Some of the wind was knocked from the Louth sails though after their no.5 James Craven was dismissed for a second bookable offence, and Wexford capitalised to pull clear by 1-15 to 1-7 after 49 minutes with points from O’Regan (2 frees), Liam Óg McGovern and O’Grady. Wexford seemed to have ridden out the storm. But another soft penalty, which was again dispatched by McEneaney, had nerves jangling with the gap down to five points and 57 minutes gone. Wexford responded well though. But they wasted a couple of chances before Louth tagged on an injury-time free (captain Andy McDonnell).
WEXFORD: Richard Farrell, Michael Furlong, Seán Gaule, Conor Carty (1-0), Derek Butler, James Breen (capt.), Liam Óg McGovern (0-1), Matthew O’Hanlon (0-1), Michael O’Regan (0-5, 4 frees, 1 ‘45), Declan Murphy (0-2, 1 free), Emmet Kent, Paudie Kelly (1-0), Kevin O’Grady (0-6, 3 frees), Killian Kehoe, Brendan Halpin.
Subs: Tiernan Rossiter for Declan Murphy; Barry O’Gorman for Michael O’Regan.
LOUTH: Joe Flanagan, Pádraig Bannon, Darren O’Hanlon, Philip Englishby, James Craven, David Maloney, Liam Shevlin, James Califf, Shane O’Hanlon, Eamonn O’Neill (0-1), Jim McEneaney (2-3, 2-0 penalties, 0-3 frees), Andy McDonnell (capt.), Kevin Rogers (0-4, 2 frees), Michael Rogers, Derek Kierans.
Subs: Ruairi Moore for James Califf; Conall Hoey for Darren O’Hanlon; Barry Hamilton for Derek Kierans; Eoin O’Connor for Eamonn O’Neill; Tiernan Hand for Philip Englishby.
[Report: Ronan Fagan]